By Woody Woodrick
Arlin Kiel went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in October to help with recovery from Hurricane Katrina and knew right away he had a source of more volunteers.
Kiel had recently joined the board of directors for NOMADS (Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service), a group of recreational vehicle owners who travel the country doing mission projects.
“I put together a proposal and took it to the board (in the fall), and they approved it,” Kiel said.
The result has been a steady stream of RVs arriving at two sites on the Gulf Coast. The mostly senior-aged volunteers have been parking at Caswell Springs United Methodist Church near Moss Point and Main Street UMC in Bay St. Louis.
“Between the two sites, we’ve had approximately 120 different NOMADS work here,” Kiel said. “That represents about 10 percent of the total national membership. I’m really pleased with that.”
NOMADS provide volunteer labor and tools for all sorts of projects involving building, remodeling or repairing churches, homes, camps, youth centers and other agencies. They also do office/clerical work, sewing and other miscellaneous tasks in support of mission work for churches, youth camps, local mission organizations and relief agencies via a local UMC church.
Operating what it calls “drop-in” projects is a bit different from the norm for NOMADS. The organization usually finds specific projects and arranges months in advance for workers to spend a couple of weeks working.
Kiel, originally from Nebraska but now living full time in his Dalton motor home, said the NOMADS have been warmly welcomed. “The reception from the people in the church has been unparalleled.”
Caswell Springs had installed hook-ups for seven RVs. Over at Bay St. Louis, Main Street UMC can accommodate up to 10 RVs but has hosted as many as 12.
“We started with eight spots,” said Bob Delcuze, who handled the set-up in Bay St. Louis. “We put in more electrical lines and tied into the sewer line at the bakery next door.”
Ben Moore, site coordinator at Main Street UMC, said having NOMADS working has been a big help. “They come in and know what we need, and they have adapted,” said Moore of Kansas. “I can give them a house and they know what to do. They have knowledge that many groups don’t have.”
Kiel agreed. “The skill level of NOMADS, as a whole, probably is much higher than a mission group from a church because they’ve been out doing this kind of thing,” he said.
NOMADS working on the Gulf Coast have found the work more intense than most projects. “This has been a lot more grueling,” said Holden Hyde of Kansas, who arrived April 10 in Bay St. Louis on his third trip to the area. “The work goes on every day instead of three days per week.”
In addition, some NOMADS are providing office help to site coordinators.
Since making their first trip to the coast, Hyde and his wife Linda Hyde have left their fifth-wheel RV parked at Main Street. They last worked in the area in January.
Kiel said the NOMADS plan to stay on the coast until mid-June, take some time off and the return in mid-September.
This is not the first time NOMADS have been to Mississippi. The group has worked on projects all over the state. Kiel recently joined a group working at Rust College in Holly Springs.
In addition to the sites on the coast, NOMADS regularly supply office help to the Mississippi Disaster Response Center in Meridian. They also plan to work at the Mississippi Rural Center near Columbia to repair Katrina related damage. NOMADS has also set up hurricane-related work in Dulac, La.; Le Blanc, La., and Florida City, Fla.